20 August 2007

Executives from an arm’s length

Anyone feel strongly about what they want or explicitly don’t want out of how the leaders in their companies look and act? I know I do.

I always want an executive to…
  • look comfortable, professional¹, and approachable.
  • speak to me with knowledge, insight, and respect², prepared to change course based on new info.
  • defend an employee publicly and refuse to embarrass an employee privately.
  • be measured in any response.
  • step up to owning responsibility.
I don’t ever want to catch an executive…
  • acting like they are superior to me or my peers.
  • badmouthing the company or a client – justified criticism is a-okay though.
  • clueless about what I do for the company (even if the company is big, a few seconds of conversation should yield a sense of familiarity or at least comprehension).
  • exposing me for a failure of leadership that comes from above me.
  • lying, no exceptions³.
Those are the first five of each that came to me. More ideas?

¹ I've got long hair and don't own a suit. I drive a moderately beat up sedan. Some of that will necessarily change to be taken seriously by clients. What about by members of my own company? I've long been considering moving to more formal attire. My personal taste when it comes to formal dress decidedly favors a fusion of Western Europe / South Asia and Western Europe /East Asia. I can wear that and look good, but I also look markedly different from everyone else in the room… in any room, really. When I drive my car into the ground (or perhaps before), I'm not going to buy a by-the-numbers luxury car. I'd vastly prefer a green vehicle, and if I must have a luxury car then I prefer a well-maintained older model BMW - or something in that vein.
² It mystifies me that anyone with a high-level title would be anything other than respectful. Respect starts with getting what you give, and someone who has earned high position can readily afford initial extension of respect. Show me an exec that thinks they warrant obeisance from the gravitas of their title and I'll show you someone who has forgotten that the active life's blood work of the company is done by other people.
³ NO EXCEPTIONS. If an exec finds that they have misstated, I expect them to correct as soon as is reasonably possible. If an exec places an employee in a position to present a falsehood, I expect that exec to intervene at the earliest possible time to correct and hold the employee as blameless as can reasonably be justified (e.g. an employee that knowingly lies on behalf of an ignorant leader is not off the hook).


A is A said...

Being an executive is a simple risk/reward proposition. If you intend to bask in the glory (and compensation) that comes with leading a successful business, you have to also shoulder the blame/responsibility for the organization's failings. This includes mistakes made by any subordinates/employees. It's a simple matter of stepping up and taking it like a man. If you're upset about the mistake, figure out why it happened in the first place and fix the problem. But this doesn't preclude owning up to the problem. I'm not even going to address the idea of an executive intentionally lying. That should not be an issue ever in the realm of consideration.

To take it a step further, it is an executive's job to empower employees. A fully empowered employee will "go to battle" for the leader. I know it's a corny metaphor and doing business, in many ways, is not comparable to war, but the analogy works. A good executive knows when and how to dole out criticism, because it will inevitably be necessary. The method, however, is key. The best way is one that does not diminish the level of respect of or for anyone involved.

As for dress, I find formal dress preferable, but that doesn't have to be inextricably linked to American fashion in any way. I tend to look best in a Wall-Street style suit of a sort that makes me appear somewhat taller, but that is wholly due to my looks and build. As long attire comes across as professional, even if different, I don't see a problem with it. Half of the challenge is demeanor anyway. If clients or business partners can't be swayed to look past attire by a professional attitude, then they may not be people to work with in the first place.

I don't understand how exceutives can be disrespectful. Okay, I guess I can understand it, but I don't accept it. If American workers would take a greater sense of ownership in their work and employer, executive disrespect would slowly fade away. If no one put up with it, it could not exist.

I echo: no exceptions.

EGV said...

Man, I know I’m hypersensitive to it, but I witness execs violating simple tenets of integrity with a kind of frequency and zeal that makes me want to throw myself full force behind a Mark Trail-esque right hook of justice. Or at least a verbal parallel. So intentionally lying is definitely enough on the table as a norm that I get worked up enough to prescriptively all-cap.

The executive as hero is a pretty new idea, and it strikes me as a bit hazardous. I don't know how many folks thought about conflating glory and industrialist status until recently. Most of the classic industrialists were, eh, ethically obtuse? and spent retirements in public service either in government (doing good or continuing to exploit) or in philanthropy. I don't doubt that assuaging guilt and avoiding a slide into plutocracy followed by kleptocracy then kakistocracy had something to do with it.

I prefer the executive as a ship captain metaphor. Especially since many merchant (as well as pirate) ships were floating democratic business ventures. It’s a pretty easy fit and has a tendency to be able to swallow up the business-as-war meme that gets folks into trouble.

As with anyone being disrespectful, I’m okay with it in small doses. Especially if the aggressor is self-aware enough to backpedal or otherwise apologize. I’m certainly in no position to blanket judge here as I’m no stranger to putting my foot in my mouth. But I’ll at least make an attempt to either dislodge it or firmly support my behavior.